Your View of the Soul Affects Your Life
“The man came to be a living soul.”—GENESIS 2:7.
1, 2. What do most religions believe regarding man and the soul?
NEARLY all religions teach that man has an immortal soul. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says that the soul is “created by God and infused into the body at conception.” It also says that the doctrine of the immortal soul “is one of the cornerstones” of Christendom’s churches. Similarly, “the Moslem concept,” states The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “holds that the soul comes into existence at the same time as the body; thereafter, it has a life of its own, its union with the body being a temporary condition.”
2 Such religions believe that the soul leaves the body at the instant of death and lives on eternally, its destiny being heavenly bliss, a temporary stay in purgatory, or eternal torment in a fiery hell. Death is viewed as the doorway to eternal life in the spirit realm. As one writer said in the book We Believe in Immortality: “I view Death as a great and glorious adventure. I view Death as a divine promotion.”
3. What is the belief of various Eastern religions?
3 Hindus, Buddhists, and others believe in transmigration. This includes the belief that at death the soul is reincarnated, reborn as another human or another living thing. If a person had been good, it is said that his soul would be reborn as a person of higher station. But if he had been bad, he would be reborn as a person of lower station or even as an animal or an insect.
4, 5. Why is it important to know the truth about the soul?
4 However, what if humans do not have an immortal soul? What if death is not “a divine promotion,” not the immediate doorway to eternal spirit life or to reincarnation for all who die? Then the immortal-soul belief would lead one in the wrong direction. The book Official Catholic Teachings says that the church insists on the immortal-soul belief because not believing it “would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead.” So one’s course of life, worship, and eternal future are involved.—Proverbs 14:12; Matthew 15:9.
5 It is important to know the truth about this belief. Jesus said: “Those worshiping [God] must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) The truth about the human soul is found in God’s Word, the Bible. The inspired Scriptures contain God’s revelation of his purposes, so we can be confident that it tells us the truth. (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Jesus said in prayer to God: “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17.
Created With an Immortal Soul?
6. What does the Genesis account clearly tell us about man’s creation?
6 Genesis 2:7 tells us: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” The account does not say that God implanted in man an immortal soul. It says that when God’s power energized Adam’s body, he “came to be a living soul.” So man is a soul. He does not have a soul.
7. Why were humans put on earth?
7 God created Adam to live on earth, not in heaven. Earth was not to be a mere testing ground to see if Adam qualified for heaven. God formed the earth “to be inhabited,” and Adam was its first human inhabitant. (Isaiah 45:18; 1 Corinthians 15:45) Later, when God created Eve as a wife for Adam, God’s purpose for them was that they should populate the earth and turn it into a paradise as humankind’s eternal home.—Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 37:29.
8. (a) On what was Adam’s existence conditional? (b) If Adam had not sinned, where would he have continued to live?
8 Nowhere does the Bible say that part of Adam was immortal. On the contrary, his existence was conditional, based on obedience to God’s law. If he broke that law, what then? Eternal life in the spirit realm? Not at all. Instead, he would “positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) He would go back where he came from: “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 2:7; 3:19) Adam had no existence before he was created, and he would have none after he died. So he had only two choices: (1) obedience and life or (2) disobedience and death. If Adam had not sinned, he would have lived on earth forever. He would never have gone to heaven.
9. What does the Bible correctly call death, and why?
9 Adam disobeyed, and he died. (Genesis 5:5) Death was his punishment. It was not a doorway to a “glorious adventure” but a doorway to nonexistence. Thus, death is not a friend but is what the Bible calls it, an “enemy.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) If Adam had had an immortal soul that would go to heaven if he was obedient, then death would have been a blessing. But it was not. It was a curse. And with Adam’s sin, the curse of death spread to all humans because all are his offspring.—Romans 5:12.
10. What serious problem arises in believing that Adam had an immortal soul?
10 Further, if Adam had been created with an immortal soul that would be tormented forever in a fiery hell if he sinned, why was he not warned about this? Why was he only told that he would die and return to dust? How unfair it would have been to condemn Adam to an eternity of torture for disobedience, yet not warn him about it! However, with God “there is no injustice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) There was no need to warn Adam about a fiery hell for the immortal souls of the wicked. Such a hell did not exist, nor did immortal souls exist. (Jeremiah 19:5; 32:35) There is no eternal torment in the dust of the ground.
Bible’s Use of “Soul”
11. (a) In the Bible the English word “soul” comes from what Hebrew and Greek words? (b) How does the King James Version render the Hebrew and Greek words for “soul”?
11 In the Hebrew Scriptures, the English word “soul” comes from the Hebrew word neʹphesh, which appears over 750 times. Its equivalent in the Greek Scriptures is psy·kheʹ, which appears over 100 times. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures consistently renders these words as “soul.” Other Bibles may use a variety of words. Some of the ways the King James Version translates neʹphesh are: appetite, beast, body, breath, creature, dead (body), desire, heart, life, man, mind, person, self, soul, thing. And it translates psy·kheʹ as: heart, life, mind, soul.
12. How does the Bible use the Hebrew and Greek words for “soul”?
12 The Bible calls sea creatures neʹphesh: “Every living soul that is in the waters.” (Leviticus 11:10) The word can refer to land animals: “Let the earth put forth living souls according to their kinds, domestic animal and moving animal and wild beast.” (Genesis 1:24) Hundreds of times neʹphesh means people. “All the souls who issued out of Jacob’s upper thigh came to be seventy souls.” (Exodus 1:5) An example of psy·kheʹ being used this way is 1 Peter 3:20. It tells of Noah’s ark, “in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.”
13. In what ways does the Bible use the word “soul”?
13 The Bible uses the word “soul” in many other ways. Genesis 9:5 says: “Your blood of your souls shall I ask back.” Here the soul is said to have blood. Exodus 12:16 says: “Only what every soul needs to eat, that alone may be done for you.” In this case the soul is said to eat. Deuteronomy 24:7 speaks of a man “kidnapping a soul of his brothers.” Surely it was not an immortal soul that was kidnapped. Psalm 119:28 says: “My soul has been sleepless from grief.” So the soul can even lose sleep. The Bible also shows that the soul is mortal. It dies. “That soul must be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:20) “He may not come toward any dead soul.” (Numbers 6:6) “Our souls are to die.” (Joshua 2:14) “Any soul that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed.” (Acts 3:23) “Every living soul died.”—Revelation 16:3.
14. What does the Bible clearly show that the soul is?
14 Clearly, the Bible’s use of neʹphesh and psy·kheʹ shows that the soul is the person or, in the case of animals, the creature. It is not some immortal part of an individual. Indeed, neʹphesh is even used of God himself: “Anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.”—Psalm 11:5.
Many Scholars Agree
15. How do several scholarly works express themselves about the immortal-soul teaching?
15 Many scholars agree that the Bible does not speak of an immortal soul. The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia states: “The Bible does not state a doctrine of the immortality of the soul, nor does this clearly emerge in early rabbinical literature.” The Jewish Encyclopedia says: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible notes: “The nephesh . . . does not continue to exist independently of the body, but dies with it. . . . No biblical text authorizes the statement that the ‘soul’ is separated from the body at the moment of death.”
16. How do some authorities express themselves about the soul?
16 Also, the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words says: “‘Soul’ in the O[ld] T[estament], then, does not indicate some immaterial part of human beings that continues after death. [Neʹphesh] essentially means life as it is uniquely experienced by personal beings. . . . The basic meaning of [psy·kheʹ] is established by its O[ld] T[estament] counterpart, rather than its meaning in Greek culture.” And The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary states that in the Bible, the word soul “does not designate a part of a human being, but rather the whole person. . . . In this sense human beings do not have souls—they are souls.”—Italics ours.
17. What do two Catholic sources acknowledge about “soul”?
17 Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The Biblical words for soul usually mean total person.” It adds: “There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]. . . . The term [neʹphesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. . . . The term [psy·kheʹ] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with [neʹphesh]. . . . The notion of the soul surviving after death is not readily discernible in the Bible.” And Georges Auzou, French Catholic Professor of Sacred Scripture, writes in his book La Parole de Dieu (The Word of God): “The concept of ‘soul,’ meaning a purely spiritual, immaterial reality, separate from the ‘body,’ . . . does not exist in the Bible.”
18. (a) How does an encyclopedia comment on the Bible’s use of the word “soul”? (b) Where did theologians get the idea of something surviving the death of the body?
18 Thus, The Encyclopedia Americana observes: “The Old Testament concept of man is that of a unity, not a union of soul and body. Although the Hebrew word [neʹphesh] is frequently translated as ‘soul,’ it would be inaccurate to read into it a Greek meaning. . . . [Neʹphesh] is never conceived of as operating separately from the body. In the New Testament the Greek word [psy·kheʹ] is often translated as ‘soul’ but again should not be readily understood to have the meaning the word had for the Greek philosophers. . . . The Bible does not provide a clear description of how a person survives after death.” It adds: “Theologians have had to resort to the discussions of philosophers for an adequate means of describing survival of the individual after death.”
Not the Bible but Philosophy
19. How is Greek philosophy connected to the immortal-soul belief?
19 It is true that theologians adopted the ideas of pagan philosophers to formulate the immortal-soul doctrine. The French Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Bible (Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible) says: “The concept of immortality is a product of Greek thinking.” The Jewish Encyclopedia affirms: “The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent,” who lived in the fourth century before Christ. Plato believed: “The soul is immortal and imperishable, and our souls will truly exist in another world!”—The Dialogues of Plato.
20. When and how did pagan philosophy infiltrate Christianity?
20 When did this pagan philosophy infiltrate Christianity? The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “From the middle of the 2nd century AD Christians who had some training in Greek philosophy began to feel the need to express their faith in its terms, both for their own intellectual satisfaction and in order to convert educated pagans. The philosophy that suited them best was Platonism.” So, as the Britannica says, “the early Christian philosophers adopted the Greek concept of the soul’s immortality.” Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the immortal-soul doctrine incorporates “theories of certain schools of Greek philosophy.” But accepting theories of Greek philosophy meant that Christendom had abandoned the simple truth expressed at Genesis 2:7: “Man came to be a living soul.”
21. How far back does the belief in an immortal soul go?
21 The immortal-soul teaching, however, goes back much further than Plato. In the book The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, by Morris Jastrow, we read: “The problem of immortality . . . engaged the serious attention of the Babylonian theologians. . . . Death was a passage to another kind of life.” Also, the book Egyptian Religion, by Siegfried Morenz, states: “The early Egyptians regarded life after death simply as a continuation of life on earth.” The Jewish Encyclopedia notes the connection with these ancient religions and Plato when it says that Plato was led to the immortal-soul idea “through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended.”
22. Why can it be said that the seeds of the immortal-soul doctrine were really sown at the dawn of human history?
22 Thus, the immortal-soul idea is ancient. In fact, its roots go back to the dawn of human history! After Adam was told that he would die if he disobeyed God, an opposite view was expressed to Adam’s wife, Eve. She was told: “You positively will not die.” Here the seeds of the immortal-soul doctrine were sown. And ever since then, one culture after another has adopted the pagan view that ‘you will not really die but will continue to live on.’ This includes Christendom, which took its followers into apostasy in opposition to God’s purposes and will.—Genesis 3:1-5; Matthew 7:15-23; 13:36-43; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7.
23. Who developed the immortal-soul teaching, and why?
23 Who was it that led humans to believe that lie? Jesus identified him when he said to the religious leaders of his day: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. . . . When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Yes, it is Satan who developed the immortal-soul idea to turn people away from true worship. So one’s course of life and hope for the future are put on the wrong path by believing doctrines that grew out of the first lie recorded in the Bible, though at that time Eve no doubt understood the serpent to mean merely that she would not die at all in the flesh.
24. What questions may properly be asked regarding eternal life and immortality?
24 The Bible does not teach that humans have an immortal soul. Why, then, does it speak about the hope of eternal life? Furthermore, does not the Bible, at 1 Corinthians 15:53, say: “This which is mortal must put on immortality”? And did Jesus not go to heaven after his resurrection, and did he not teach that others could also go to heaven? These and other questions will be examined in our next article.
Questions for Review
◻ What do most religions believe regarding the soul?
◻ How does the Bible show that man was not created with an immortal soul?
◻ What is clear from the Bible’s use of the Hebrew and Greek words for “soul”?
◻ What do many scholars say about the Bible’s view of the soul?
◻ How far back in history does the immortal-soul doctrine go?
[Picture on page 20]
They are all souls